It was small, underpowered and, if it hadn’t been for the tri-star hood ornament you might never have guessed the little 190E was a Mercedes-Benz. But what critics somewhat derisively dubbed the “Baby Benz” proved to be the right car for the times, a fuel-efficient sedan affordable enough for Baby Boomers to get their first taste of luxury motoring.
It helped transform the luxury car industry as much as it did Mercedes itself. Today, the German brand offers a spectrum of sedans, sports cars, coupes, cabriolets and crossovers. But what was eventually renamed the C-Class is still one of its best-selling model lines. And the all-new 2015 version is likely to further that momentum.
A quick look at the new C-Class shows that Baby is all grown up. These days, Mercedes’ recently added CLA has taken over entry-level duties for the brand, the new C300 and C400 models moving decidedly up-market, coopting not only some of the design cues of the Teutonic brand’s S-Class flagship, but much of the bigger sedan’s daunting technology. If early 190 and C-Class models defined the term “entry luxury,” the modifier no longer applies to the phrase. The 2015 C-Class is sleek and sophisticated outsideand luxurious inside, with much more refined and elegant materials and finishes than ever before.
One of the features a motorist will likely notice immediately is the laptop computer-style touchpad that accompanies the Mercedes comand, the rotary knob that controls the car’s infotainment system. Along with voice recognition, it provides another method to easily operate the high-tech hardware. One of the biggest surprises was Mercedes’ decision to offer virtually every safety feature that comes with the S-Class on the smaller model, including Adaptive Brake Assist, Collision Prevent Assist Plus, and the latest Active Park Assist system.
For 2015, Mercedes will offer two powertrains, a 235-horsepower 2.0-liter turbo in the C300, and 3.0-liter turbo V-6 in the C400 making 329-hp. Expect an AMG performance model to follow, and possibly a diesel, as well. All-wheel-drive is a definite plus, especially in snow-belt regions. Though longer than the outgoing C-Class, the new model is about 200 pounds lighter, and delivers both better fuel economy and improved performance. Several days of driving around Seattle and the Cascade Mountains revealed the new C-Class to be far more fun to drive than ever, though not quite the aggressive driving machine of a BMW 3-Series. But it’s more sleek and sophisticated overall.
Prices start at $39,325 for the C300—plus $925 in destination fees—and can top $50,000 for a well-equipped C400. That’s a stiff number for a Baby Benz, but this is a car that grown-up luxury buyers will truly appreciate.